I’m back today with some short reviews of movies that have been released on streaming services so far this month. February is the peak time for romantic comedies, and I’ve got two of them here, as well as a YA drama, a reboot of a horror classic, and a new Soderbergh thriller. Read more on these below.
“KIMI” (HBO Max)
In “Kimi,” director Steven Soderbergh’s “Rear Window” for a tech-savvy generation reliant on smart devices in both their home and work life, the most nerve-wracking scenes don’t necessarily have anything to do with murder and subsequent cover-up that the unwitting protagonist uncovers. Angela (Zoë Kravitz) is a young woman who works from home, where she monitors and fixes problems with the software for Kimi, a smart speaker made by the Amygdala corporation. One day, she hears something on the data stream that doesn’t sound right—the sound of a woman being attacked. When Angela does what she believes is the right thing, alerting her superiors, her own life is put at risk when it becomes apparent that this incident goes all the way to the top of Amygdala. This conspiracy element of the plot in writer David Koepp’s screenplay is rather thinly drawn, but for as little as the film develops that side of the story, a remarkable amount of time is spent developing Angela’s interior life. Anchored by the intense physicality and emotional depth that Kravitz exudes in the role, we get to know Angela incredibly well by the time she listens to that fateful recording. Angela is agoraphobic, afraid to step outside her apartment for any reason, even just to meet the guy in the apartment across the street (Terry, played by Byron Bowers) at the food truck downstairs for breakfast. Through Angela, Soderbergh also seamlessly integrates the COVID-19 pandemic into the story without making the entire movie about that, and it works better than any pandemic-era film has so far. When Angela tells her therapist that she was getting better until covid set back her progress, we understand the real trauma that the pandemic created with no further explanation needed. When events finally do push Angela to venture outside, some nifty, guerilla-style camerawork makes her trip feel even more urgent and disorienting. It all explodes in a fun climax with some pretty gnarly violence (watch out for the nail gun!) and a sense of humor that will make it tough to beat as one of my favorite scenes in a movie this year. Soderbergh does a lot here in under 90 minutes, and even though it doesn’t all hit, when it does, it hits good. Runtime: 89 minutes. Rated R.
“MARRY ME” (In Theaters and on Peacock Premium)
Director Kat Coiro’s romantic comedy “Marry Me” is built on the most absurd of premises: a pop superstar, Kat Valdez (Jennifer Lopez) plans to marry her fiancé Bastian (Maluma), with whom she has the chart-topping single of the film’s title, in a lavish wedding on stage in front of millions of people. When she discovers at the last second that Bastian cheated on her with her assistant, Kat throws caution to the wind and decides to marry a man she sees in the concert audience holding a sign that says “Marry Me,” right there on the spot. That man is Charlie Gilbert (Owen Wilson) a middle school math teacher, single father, and all around low-key guy who is only at the concert to impress his daughter Lou (Chloe Coleman), and was only holding that sign because it was thrust on him by his friend and colleague Parker (Sarah Silverman). They go through with the wedding, and instead of having it annulled, Kat decides to pursue the relationship and see where it goes. “Marry Me” leans a lot more into the romance than the comedy, but Lopez and Wilson have charming if mellow chemistry. “Marry Me,” with its preposterous storyline, pop soundtrack, and reliance on genre tropes, often plays like a winning throwback to the rom-coms of the early aughts. Ultimately, neither of these characters have enough baggage to lend the film much conflict—Charlie is almost too unproblematic, a fact pointed out early on in the film itself— but J-Lo’s star power is on full display, and it’s nice to see her character work through her problems in her life, relationships, and career after being jolted awake by Bastian’s betrayal. “Marry Me” is a sure-fire crowdpleaser, even if we won’t remember it the farther we get from Valentine’s Day. Runtime: 112 minutes. Rated PG-13.
“I WANT YOU BACK” (Amazon Prime Video)
Director Jason Orley’s “I Want You Back” falls in line with the more edgier rom-coms of recent years. While the aforementioned “Marry Me” leans more into the romance, “I Want You Back” is much more comedic, with leads Charlie Day and Jenny Slate delivering screenwriters Isaac Aptaker and Elizabeth Berber’s witticisms with all the sadness, scorn, and frustration that comes with being a newly-single 30-something. Peter (Day) and Emma (Slate) both thought they had found the one, until their respective significant others suddenly break up with them. Anne (Gina Rodriguez) yearns for adventure and believes Peter has become complacent and dull, while Noah (Scott Eastwood) is frustrated with Emma’s aimlessness. Peter and Emma meet when they encounter each other having break-up-related nervous breakdowns in the stairwell at the office building they both work in, and after striking up a quick and easy friendship, they concoct a convoluted scheme to win back their paramours from their new love interests. “I Want You Back” seems like it’s going in a predictable direction, throws in some twists, but ends up about where you likely thought it would in the end. Day and Slate are both very funny and they have fun chemistry, but as friends— the film does a much better job developing every other relationship except for theirs, like the friendship between Noah and Peter, or the relationship between Emma and Anne’s new flame, middle school drama teacher Logan (Manny Jacinto), who Emma attempts to seduce. The film doesn’t even devote many scenes to just Peter and Emma together as it progresses, so their sudden interest in a romance with each other shoved into the final act feels forced, resulting in an ending that doesn’t feel particularly satisfying. And when satisfaction is something most of us come to the rom-com genre for, that’s kind of a problem. Runtime: 116 minutes. Rated R.
“THE SKY IS EVERYWHERE” (Apple TV+)
Lennie Walker’s (Grace Kaufman) big sister Bailey (Havana Rose) is everything to her. And then one day, Bailey suddenly drops dead, of the same causes that killed their mother. Lennie, a gifted clarinetist looking to get into Julliard, finds herself unable to tap into the music again. On top of that, she’s torn between Joe (Jacques Colimon), a guy in her music class who shows interest in her, and Toby (Pico Alexander), Bailey’s grieving boyfriend. Directed by Josephine Decker, “The Sky is Everywhere” is based on the young adult novel by Jandy Nelson, who also penned the screenplay. And “The Sky is Everywhere” very much is a YA project, overflowing with teen angst. But even when it feels like everything is falling apart a bit toward the end, the film is grounded by a great lead performance from Kaufman, who makes Lennie feel like a real living breathing high schooler, filled with sadness and uncertainty and anxiety and selfishness, but also a real excitement at what life has in store. Decker’s penchant for audacious visuals elevates the film further, featuring a bright color palette, use of quirky sound effects to illustrate Lennie’s thoughts and feelings, and merging fantasy elements with reality in often very beautiful ways, such as when Lennie and Joe connect over a song they both love. As they lay side-by-side in the woods, flowers bloom and dance around them. “The Sky is Everywhere” also features a strong supporting performance from Cherry Jones and Lennie’s grandmother, and Jason Segel as her pothead uncle. Runtime: 103 minutes. Rated PG-13.
“TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE” (2022) (Netflix)
There is no shortage of bowel spillage in director David Blue Garcia’s “Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” which positions itself as a sequel to the original 1974 film. But for as many shockingly gory kills that the film boasts, this new TCM completely lacks the anxiety and scares that made the first movie so ground-breaking. On top of that, it’s just flat-out bad, with a silly story and even sillier new characters. It’s been almost 50 years since cannibalistic serial killer Leatherface’s (played here by Mark Burnham) killing spree, and now, a group of young influencers have traveled to the abandoned Texas town of Harlow. They’ve bought up all the town’s dilapidated buildings, and plan to turn it into a trendy getaway. Their arrival, and attempt to kick an elderly woman out of the old orphanage she still lives in, brings Leatherface back out into the open. The group of young people is led by Mel (Sarah Yarkin) and her sister Lila (Elsie Fisher), who was dragged along on the trip by her sister. The film clumsily integrates social media and influencer culture into the story, as well as a backstory for Lila which reveals that she is traumatized from surviving a school shooting. These things are present in “Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” but Chris Thomas Devlin’s script doesn’t make productive use out of them. The social media aspects feel like they are only present to make the film feel more timely and modern, but there’s no real interrogation of the shallowness of it all. The inclusion of the school shooting is particularly egregious; clearly the film isn’t going for an anti-gun message, as Lila herself picks up a shotgun to take on Leatherface by the end of the movie. It’s clear that this film is also trying to duplicate the success that the new series of “Halloween” movies has had by bringing back legacy characters. In this case, it’s Sally Hardesty (played by Olwen Fouéré; original cast member Marilyn Burns passed away in 2014), the sole survivor of the 1973 massacre. Like Laurie Strode, she has become a hardened warrior hell-bent on revenge. Unlike Laurie Strode, she isn’t given a ton of development outside of her desire to take down Leatherface once and for all. With a short runtime, “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” may not be a complete waste of time for horror fans, and it does have some striking visuals here there on top of a brutal ending. But with characters who are about as stupid as the film’s premise, and a nearly complete failure to build up any kind of tension or fear, “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” is a largely dull reincarnation of a franchise that would have been better off left alone. Runtime: 81 minutes. Rated R.